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Power Ranking the Naismith Player of the Year Candidates in College Basketball

Thad NovakCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2016

Power Ranking the Naismith Player of the Year Candidates in College Basketball

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    This week’s Top 25 polls brought college basketball one of its biggest shakeups in recent memory, and it’s time for our Player of the Year rankings to get a shakeup of their own. Raw statistics are well and good, but contributing to a winner—a new focus of these rankings—means an awful lot, too.

    One player who’s done that in spades is Miami point guard Shane Larkin. Largely unknown to start the season, the sophomore standout is making plays on both ends of the floor for the highest-ranked Hurricanes team ever.

    Read on for more on Larkin and the rest of the 20 top candidates to hoist the Naismith hardware by the end of the year.

    Note: this article has been drastically modified from its original published version, so many comments below may reflect the previous rankings.

20. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State

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    Jamaal Franklin hauled in 19 rebounds in two San Diego State wins last week, but that’s about it for good news for the Aztecs star. He’s still struggling to keep his scoring at Naismith levels despite having ceded his de facto point guard duties to Chase Tapley.

    Key Stats: 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game

    Eye Test: Fading noticeably in MWC play, and Xavier Thames’ return is likely to cut into his contributions even further.

    Winning Edge: Exceptional combination of PG, SG and PF skills.

    Biggest Flaw: Scoring numbers continue to drop.

19. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    Though it was teammate Larry Drew II who nailed the game-winning shot, Shabazz Muhammad put on a show in UCLA’s win over Washington.

    Not only did he turn in one of his best offensive efforts of the season (22 points and eight rebounds), but he’s finally starting to make plays on D. 40 percent of his steals on the year have come in the last three games.

    Key Stats: 18.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, .429 three-point shooting

    Eye Test: Most exciting of many great Bruin athletes, but more flash than substance at this stage.

    Winning Edge: Top-tier scorer for rising Pac-12 powerhouse.

    Biggest Flaw: Improving defense still needs a lot of work.


18. Rotnei Clarke, Butler

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    Rotnei Clarke is as lethal a pure shooter as there is in the college game. The heart of Butler’s offense showed some unusual versatility last week, combining for 11 rebounds and nine assists in wins over GW and St. Bonaventure.

    Key Stats: 16.9 points and 2.9 assists per game, .434 three-point shooting        

    Eye Test: Ceding some of his offensive primacy to Roosevelt Jones, but still as dangerous a scorer as No. 11 Butler has.

    Winning Edge: Deadeye shooter gives top-15 Bulldogs a go-to offensive option.

    Biggest Flaw: Awfully one-dimensional, exceptional though that dimension is.


17. Anthony Bennett, UNLV

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    With UNLV in danger of dropping its third straight game, Anthony Bennett delivered one of his best performances of the season.

    Bennett’s 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks keyed an upset of No. 15 New Mexico that kept the Rebels from falling below .500 in conference play.

    Key Stats: 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game

    Eye Test: Centerpiece of UNLV offense, but the Rebels will feed him even when they might be better off getting someone else involved.

    Winning Edge: Contender for title of “nation’s best big man” as a true freshman. 

    Biggest Flaw: Rarely faces elite size in Mountain West.


16. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

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    The latest milestone for freshman sensation Nerlens Noel is a string of three straight double-doubles (and counting) after convincing wins over South Carolina and Auburn. Of course he’s still a peerless defensive weapon, too, holding on to the national lead in blocks.

    Noel's season may be in jeopardy after an apparent knee injury against Florida Tuesday night, but no prognosis is available at this writing.

    Key Stats: 9.6 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 2.1 steals per game

    Eye Test: His defense makes Kentucky a good team, but his offensive limitations prevent it from being a great one.

    Winning Edge: Best defensive weapon in college hoops.

    Biggest Flaw: A complementary player at best on offense.

     


15. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga

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    Kelly Olynyk didn’t get a lot of opportunity to impress this week, as a pair of blowout wins for Gonzaga cut down on his minutes. Still, he did manage to turn in a 20-point effort (on 7-for-8 shooting, yet) in the rout of Loyola Marymount.

    Key Stats: 17.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, .652 field-goal percentage

    Eye Test: Gonzaga has relied predominantly on its offense to reach the No. 5 ranking, and Olynyk is that offense’s first, best option.

    Winning Edge: Best low-post scorer in the nation.

    Biggest Flaw: Not as physical as you’d like from a seven-footer.


14. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame

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    Jack Cooley kept his double-double streak alive at seven, but that’s about all the good that can be said for his week. A pair of subpar performances included a frustrating foul-out after playing just 32 minutes in Saturday’s five-OT epic against Louisville.

    Key Stats: 14.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game

    Eye Test: Immensely difficult matchup because of his strength, but isn’t necessarily the focal point on either end for balanced Notre Dame.

    Winning Edge: Best and toughest post player in grueling Big East.

    Biggest Flaw: Still hit-or-miss as a scorer.


13. Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Astoundingly, Russ Smith barely exceeded his season scoring average against Notre Dame despite playing 56 minutes of the quintuple-OT marathon.

    Couple that loss with another subpar performance in a rout of Rutgers, and the Cards’ golden boy is showing some tarnish.

    Key Stats: 18.3 points and 2.1 steals per game

    Eye Test: It’s feast or famine with Smith, who has won plenty of games by himself but can sometimes look lost on the court (as he did in key situations against the Irish).

    Winning Edge: Unparalleled combination of scoring and defense.

    Biggest Flaw: When Louisville needs him most, he’s struggled to deliver.


12. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

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    Even a dreadful shooting night against Baylor hasn’t slowed down scorching-hot Marcus Smart. He’s up to fourth in the country in steals and he combined for 15 boards and 10 assists in wins over the Bears and the Texas Longhorns last week.

    Key Stats: 14.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.0 steals per game

    Eye Test: When Smart’s in the game, he’s everywhere on the court. That can lead to his trying to do too much, but he’s been coming up aces lately.

    Winning Edge: Nation’s top all-around point guard.

    Biggest Flaw: Assist totals aren’t going to raise any eyebrows.


11. Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown

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    Georgetown’s ball-sharing Princeton offense isn’t usually conducive to individual stardom, but Otto Porter Jr. is transcending the system.

    The 6’8” sophomore is the engine that makes Georgetown go. He leads the Hoyas’ stout defense with his active hands and provides the team’s top scoring threat on the other end.

    Key Stats: 15.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game, .443 three-point shooting

    Eye Test: Without Porter, No. 15 Hoyas might not even be ranked.

    Winning Edge: Physical, versatile forward can do it all in the paint (while making plenty of plays outside it).

    Biggest Flaw: Outstanding defense hasn’t translated into very many blocked shots.


10. Ben McLemore, Kansas

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    Even in a disastrous week for the Kansas offense, Ben McLemore put in a valiant effort to keep the Jayhawks afloat.

    He combined for 30 points in losses to TCU and Oklahoma, shooting 46 percent from the floor and accounting for nearly a quarter of KU’s scoring. 

    McLemore also got to play the hero in the Jayhawks' blowout win over Kansas State on Monday, pouring in 30 points on blazing shooting and adding seven boards and three steals.

    Key Stats: 16.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, .435 three-point shooting

    Eye Test: Everything No. 14 Kansas does on offense runs through him.

    Winning Edge: One-man offensive show can drain the trey or finish at the rim with equal flair.

    Biggest Flaw: He and Jeff Withey are stealing each other's thunder.

9. Shane Larkin, Miami

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    The son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry, PG Shane Larkin has taken Miami from obscurity to the No. 3 ranking in the nation, becoming a star himself along the way.

    The 5’11” sophomore not only keeps the offense clicking for the veteran ‘Canes, but he ignites their defense with his pressure on opposing ballhandlers.

    Key Stats: 13 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game, .434 three-point shooting

    Eye Test: The Hurricanes’ towering front line would get very little done on offense without Larkin feeding them.

    Winning Edge: Cat-quick point guard has been the biggest revelation of Hurricanes' 19-3 season.

    Biggest Flaw: Generates surprisingly few assists for all the wins Miami is racking up.


8. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse

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    Nobody’s happier to see James Southerland back in action than his Syracuse teammate, Michael Carter-Williams. After a couple of iffy games, Carter-Williams blew up in Southerland’s return against St. John’s, racking up 17 points, eight assists and six steals.

    Key Stats: 4.7 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 3.1 steals per game

    Eye Test: Syracuse’s success has been far more of a team effort than Carter-Williams’ jaw-dropping numbers would suggest.

    Winning Edge: Only player in national top three in two major stat categories.

    Biggest Flaw: His shot (and his scoring) still have a long way to go.


7. Cody Zeller, Indiana

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    Cody Zeller had plenty to bounce back from after he finished a disappointing game against Illinois by blowing a defensive assignment on the game-winning layup.

    Still, he made up for plenty of sins with his 24-point, eight rebound dismantling of Ohio State in Columbus.

    Key Stats: 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, .605 field-goal shooting

    Eye Test: Indiana thrives on the attention he draws, but Zeller himself rarely seems to take over a game.

    Winning Edge: Leading scorer of country’s best offense is also a fine rebounder.

    Biggest Flaw: Still playing awfully soft for a Big Ten seven-footer.


6. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    One of the few bright spots in Ohio State’s home loss to Indiana was Deshaun Thomas’ biggest game in weeks.

    Still, even 26 points and seven rebounds from Thomas couldn’t salvage that defeat, just as a more average showing from the Buckeye star couldn't save Ohio State in an OT loss in Ann Arbor last Tuesday.

    Key Stats: 20.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, .400 three-point shooting

    Eye Test: When he’s not scoring, No.13 Buckeyes are all but helpless on offense.

    Winning Edge: Leading scorer in nation’s toughest conference.

    Biggest Flaw: Even in Big Ten, tough to shine if his team doesn't climb up from fifth place.


5. Jeff Withey, Kansas

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    After a dismal stretch during Kansas' three-game losing skid, Jeff Withey righted the ship in a big way against Kansas State on Monday night.

    On top of his usual five-block defensive show, Withey lit it up on the other end with a 17-point, 10-board double-double.

    Key Stats: 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game

    Eye Test: Unimpressive when KU has the ball, but always in the thick of the action when the Jayhawks are on D.

    Winning Edge: Game-changing shot-blocker at heart of nation’s top field-goal defense.

    Biggest Flaw: Hasn't become the kind of reliable offensive weapon Bill Self might've hoped for.

4. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Doug McDermott turned in his worst game of the season in a loss at Indiana State, scoring a mere eight points.

    He recovered well enough against Illinois State (24 points and 13 boards), except that he couldn’t save Creighton from its second straight upset loss and a fall from the Top 25.

    Key Stats: 23.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, .482 three-point shooting.

    Eye Test: Single-handedly kept Creighton ranked for most of the season, despite constant double-teams.

    Winning Edge: Fearsome scorer with jaw-dropping shooting percentages.

    Biggest Flaw: If he can’t keep his team in the lead in the mid-major MVC, even the nation's second-best scoring average might not be enough to put him over the top.

3. Trey Burke, Michigan

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    Although Trey Burke did his job in a home win over Ohio State, Wisconsin’s defense appeared to have his number. The Badgers held Burke to a mere four assists and forced him into an 8-for-21 shooting night in getting his 19 points.

    Key Stats: 18.2 points and 7.1 assists per game

    Eye Test: Outstanding clutch defender, but can take too much of the offense on his own shoulders in crunch time.

    Winning Edge: Most dangerous all-around offensive player in the country.

    Biggest Flaw: Though a fine long-range shooter, he’s only the fourth-best on his own team.


2. Victor Oladipo, Indiana

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    Like his Indiana team, Victor Oladipo had a Jekyll-and-Hyde week. After a shaky performance (including a key turnover) against Illinois, Oladipo did plenty to redeem himself with 26 points and eight rebounds in trouncing Ohio State.

    Key Stats: 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game, .538 three-point shooting

    Eye Test: His energy has routinely been the difference between winning and losing for top-ranked Hoosiers.

    Winning Edge: Ultra-versatile guard provides spark for Final Four contender.

    Biggest Flaw: Wildly streaky as a scorer.


1. Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    It’s hard to find anything to complain about in Mason Plumlee’s game these days. He followed his second 30-point effort in three contests with a 19-point, 10-board double-double in a gutty road win over a game Boston College squad.

    Key Stats: 18.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, .610 field-goal shooting.

    Eye Test: When Duke needs a play made, he’s providing it.

    Winning Edge: Country’s best big man, period.

    Biggest Flaw: It’s nit-picking, but he’s still a mediocre free-throw shooter.


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